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Can virtual healthcare replace human contact?

A panel next week will study just that with one participant pointing to a recent report that noted 'having a long-term relationship with a family doctor...leads to a reduction in mortality of 53 percent.'
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While it was already occurring before, virtual health care is gaining renewed traction as a result of the global pandemic.

But while virtual medicine is undoubtedly the future, there’s nothing quite like the real thing, according Stan Berman, director of the Virtual Family Physician Network Ontario.

“It’s the biggest healthcare benefit you can have, period,” Berman said, referring to the difference between using virtual medicine and having a regular family doctor.

Berman is one of the panelists for this week's Our Health session charged with exploring the topic in greater detail. Joining him for the Thursday evening event, which also features a question and answer session, are local family physician Dr. Jeff Golisky, moderator and retired doctor Keith Rose and Elisa Matheson, telemedicine coordinator for the County of Simcoe.

During Thursday’s live discussion, Berman plans to mention a study that appeared recently in the British Medical Journal.

“It noted that having a long-term relationship with a family doctor, who can spot issues faster since he knows you, who knows your family history leads to a reduction in mortality of 53 percent,” he said, adding a family doctor will also know whether one quit smoking 20 years ago or has mental health or substance abuse issues.

But with more and more people no longer having a family doctor, Berman said telemedicine serves an important role in the health-care field.

Berman’s organization, which provides access to primary care for patients, who do not have a family physician or nurse practitioner, uses the Ontario Telemedicine Network and operates clinics in Midland, Peterborough, Campbellford, Smiths Falls, Sarnia and Engelhart.

Berman said that while most of the doctors live in the Toronto area, many have some rural experience, either having been raised in a bucolic setting or practicising up north.

“I tried to hire doctors that have a feel for a rural patient population,” he said.

And while care from one’s home occurs regularly via either the telephone or computer, Berman’s clinics are a bit different in how they operate.

“The patient's physically in a room with a nurse and specialized equipment,” he said, adding that as an example, an electronic stethoscope allows the nurse to use the device on the patient that can then be heard by “the doctor in Mississauga.”

“So there's technology that can support a larger bandwidth than what a family doctor can do.”

But Berman said that even with the strides being made nowadays with virtual health, there’s no real substitute for having an actual family doctor.

“For me, the idea of having an ongoing relationship with a primary-care provider who knows you and knows the community is beneficial,” he said. “I think that’s the best solution. We are sort of a second best until a primary-care provider becomes available in the community.”

Viewers are invited to send their questions, both both before and during the event, to Jared Jylha at the MCC (

Thursday’s live broadcast will be available on Rogers TV channel 53 (Midland, Tay and Penetanguishene only). For those with smartphones, tablets or computers with a Wi-Fi connection, it can also be viewed online. This link works from anywhere in the world and does not require a Rogers subscription to access.

Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Community Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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